Mayor pitches property tax relief

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's five-part plan for property tax relief has a one-part problem.

The county tax assessor's office says a proposal to "correct" home assessments to reflect diminishing values is based on a faulty premise.

In unveiling his plan at a press conference Thursday, Daley said he would ask County Assessor James Houlihan to correct home assessments in some of the "hardest hit neighborhoods" of Chicago.

"Given the nation's economic downturn, we believe that many homes are worth less today than they were two years ago," Daley said in a press release. "If that's the case, future property tax bills should be adjusted to reflect a lower home assessed value."

But that's not the case, according to a spokesman for the county assessor's office.

Homes are selling slower, said spokesman Lucio Guerrero,  but they're still generally selling for higher prices.

"Unlike the rest of country, Chicago's market slowed down but it's still growing," Guerrero said. "From condos to single-family homes, we really haven't seen any kind of downturn."

Guerrero said there may be exceptions in some  neighborhoods. "But we know that it's not a systematic problem."

Guerrero says no large-scale reassessment can take place in Cook County before the next scheduled assessment in 2009.

The office reassesses property every three years in sections: south suburbs, north suburbs and city. Currently, south suburban properties are undergoing reassessment, according to Guerrero.

"There's no way we could break into that cycle now," he said. "We don't have the resources, and the situation doesn't warrant it."

Other components of the mayor's plan include a request to the general assembly to allow homeowners to claim additional exemptions of $26,000 to $40,000 on the assessed value of their homes.

Guerrero said Houlihan is in favor of this.

State legislation in 2003, spearheaded by the county assessor's office, created additional homestead exemptions designed to cap assessment increases at 7 percent.

Even with the cap however, Daley said homeowners in low-income neighborhoods saw their tax bills increase dramatically after the 2006 reassessment.

Daley pointed to a "representative" house in the 4300 block of South Calumet, where the tax bill increased from approximately $900 to about $2,000.

Daley also proposed spreading increases in assessed value  out over three years, a reform the assessor's office also wants. 

Daley also wants to create an expert panel to make recommendations on long-term reform of the assessment system, including ways to protect the city's renters from the effects of higher assessments.